The house was blissfully still as I lay on the couch resting from our family Easter celebration. Kids, grandkids and dear friends had long gone home, the leftovers were wrapped, dishes dried and put away, Joe was in bed, and I was alone. Just me, and a basket of foil wrapped European chocolate eggs. For three weeks, they’d politely decorated my dining room table but now they were rudely calling my name. Like clanging cymbals. Spellbound, my eyes glazed over and my mouth watered as I entertained the notion of eating one. I succumbed. Then I ate another and another and pretty soon I’d downed six of the things. If I hadn’t started feeling sick, I’d probably have eaten the entire basket full.
This morning, awash in self-recrimination, I repented yet again for my lack of self-control, and to be brutally honest, the sin of gluttony. As I picked up my journal to write, a card fell out – some notes I’d taken several weeks ago from an article that suggested that our will is not some independent entity doing what it wants, but instead relies completely on cues from other sources. This was news to me -- I’ve always seen my will as akin to an angry two year old, stomping her feet and shouting, “You’re not the boss of me!” We were at war, and I was the one who lost far too often. But if I can’t blame my will for making me chomp down those chocolates last night, what did? Or perhaps more aptly put; who or what is the boss of me?
The more I thought about it, I the more I realized that the will is pliable, that it is shaped by the things that seek to tell it what to do. Of course we’ve had a lifetime of these cues, which means that our wills do have a certain bent – but that doesn’t mean they are on their own. Here are a few things I suspect serve to influence my will.
My Mind: Not only do my thoughts directly influence my choices, but they create feelings that actively mold my will. For example, for most of my life I have seen sweets as a reward for good behavior (hmm – wonder where that idea comes from?). So last night when I was tired and feeling a little let-down, I suddenly felt I deserved those eggs. I won’t even begin to bore you with my thought processes, but believe me, they became a well-fortified defense against any logical thinking. Unfortunately, far too often this kind of emotional interchange gives shape to the actions I take. (Romans 12:2)
My Body: Our bodies have certain needs that express themselves in things like hunger or thirst. These influence our wills to make choices to satisfy those needs, but they are not always the best choices. I wish I could blame the chocolate on healthy hunger, but I’d had far too much to eat that day. In essence, my feelings overrode anything my body might have been trying to say – like, you’re not really hungry, are you? Of course this is how addictions form and take on a life of their own. (Romans 6:16)
Other people: When I am attached to the opinions of others, I make decisions on that basis. My will acts, therefore, in response to my desire to receive attention or affirmation. I hate to think how often this happens. (Proverbs 29:25)
The evil one: Obviously Satan or one of his cohorts is always trying to influence us – he had the gall to try it with Jesus himself, so I’d best not think I’m exempt from the pressures the forces of darkness put on my pliable will. That would be the worst sort of naiveté. (Ephesians 4:27)
My heart: What I mean here, is the entity that makes me who I really am, the person God created me to be. This is the hub where His Spirit and mine commune, and from there come impressions, nudges, intuitions, messages, yearnings and callings that have the power to shape my will into something God-honoring and joy-producing. (Proverbs 3:1-6)
That’s my list – you might add others, but it seems to me that our lives as Christ-followers must be ones in which we seek ever more consistently to filter our choices through our hearts before we act. Of course this requires us to live with a greater awareness of what our heart – that place of authenticity and spiritual life at the core of our being – might have to say about the things we want to do or say. In a sense, this means letting God be the gatekeeper of our will, enabling Him to shape it as He desires.
Some might say that the choice to let Him do this is an act of my will, but I prefer to think of it as an act of grace instead. In my heart of hearts, I long to follow Jesus, to be the person He made me to be, the one who brings Him honor and lives for His pleasure. So when I seek to make Him the director of my will, it isn’t me that is choosing, but the grace of God in me (1 Corinthians 15:10). The key then, is to learn how to better tap into that fountain of divine enabling that ever flows from His heart to mine.
What might the other night have looked like, had I done so? I might not have eaten a single egg, but then again, I might have had one after all, savoring each bite, giving thanks for the wonder of chocolate and enjoying the Giver of all good gifts. I’d have known that to eat more would have been turning my will over to the tyranny of emotions that were up to no good. And I’d have woken the next morning with a nice memory of the end to a lovely day instead of a load of guilt and an extra pound to work off.
In the end, living intentionally always comes back to the same thing for me – walking in intimate communion with Jesus, taking it moment by moment and learning from the One who is gentle and humble in heart; who takes great pleasure in shaping my will so that I can live out the destiny He planned before the foundation of the world.